The Great Game of the 21st century begins: China’s BRI versus G-7’s B3W

So the Great Game of the 21st century has begun: Eight years after China began its One Belt One Road (OBOR) programme—later rechristened as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)–the Group of Seven Nations (G-7) has announced its own “Build Back Better World (B3W)—a mammoth plan with potential investments worth USD 40 trillion by 2035 across the globe, vis-à-vis BRI’s USD 3.7 trillion worth of projects.

In May, US President Joe Biden had hinted at it in his telephonic conversation with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ahead of the 47th Summit of G-7 leaders, which is underway at Cornwall, UK, from June 11 to 13.

On the opening day itself, G-7 unveiled a global infrastructure plan called B3W to counter Beijing’s multi-trillion-dollar BRI. This amply demonstrated the G-7 members’ concerns about Beijing’s growth geopolitical footprint and the urgent need to counter it.

The first major step to counter China in geopolitics was the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), in which America has lined up three more democracies—Australia, Japan, and India. With the B3W initiative, Washington is drafting contours of the second front against Beijing in the 21st century, the way it had set up like NATO, CENTO, SEATO, etc. against the then rival Soviet Union after the Second World War.

“Build Back Better World” (B3W), will be a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies and intended to facilitate the building of infrastructure in poorer nations, a US  statement said.

“The adoption of the US-inspired “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project came after President Joe Biden and leaders met to address “strategic competition with China and commit to concrete actions to help meet the tremendous infrastructure need in low- and middle-income countries”, the White House said.

The B3W initiative will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, it said.

“B3W will collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in the coming years,” said the White House.

The G-7 is more transparent with respect to its funding as opposed to China. The B3W project plans to put more emphasis on the environment and climate, labor safeguards, transparency, and anti-corruption.

In a veiled criticism of China’s approach to financing BRI projects, the White House said B3W investments would be led by “a responsible and market-driven private sector, paired with high standards and transparency in public funding”.

“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in the Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” the statement added.

The 47th G7 summit is currently being held in Cornwall in the UK. Participants include the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US and representatives from the European Union.

The new infrastructure plan is recognition of the growing challenge mounted by Beijing’s BRI, a mammoth infrastructure project, with the most ambitious being the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea.

More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects like railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. With many BRI projects leading to debt restructuring, it has faced strong domestic opposition in various countries. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have canceled some projects, while China’s aggressive stance has forced others to do a rethink. Even the Opposition parties have expressed apprehension about CPEC in Pakistan. Beijing has faced accusations of operating as a predatory lender setting up debt traps for its ‘client’ countries like Pakistan.